charcutepalooza, cooking fail, curing meats at home, fail, salt curing

Guanciale: Phase 3

How about fail? Failure in the form of questionable green mold on the meaty side of the cheek. Taking the advice from Michael Ruhlman, whose book I’ve been using in Charcutepalooza, I listened when he asks you to ere on the side of common sense if you question it. So, I did.
In a few weeks I’ll try again when the Missus gets some jowl from a co-worker who’s getting ready to bring a few pigs to slaughter.

american cheese society, charcutepalooza, charcuterie, jasper hill farms, pork, science experiments in the house

Guanciale: Phase 1

I love the women of Dandelion Spring Farm, pure and simple. Not only are they extremely friendly and grow some of the most beautiful produce, they have also bestowed upon me my first whole pig jowl.


The deeply blushed red and porcelin white lobe is sitting in the refrigerator now, coated with salt, sugar, pepper and thyme.

It will live there for nearly a week before its wrapped in cheesecloth, strung up and hung in the Missus’ office. The cooler temperatures will ease it into a cured state and turn the jowl into the Italian bacon, Guanciale.

When it’s ready, in about 3 to 4 weeks, it will be cut down, sliced and paired with my new cheese obsession: Harbison from The Cellars at Jasper Hill.

The newest addition to the Jasper Hill family of cheeses, this is one of the most complex cheeses I’ve had in a very long time. It starts out smokey, akin to a young Winnimere, then a wash of butter and cream hits, ending with a distinct mustard finish. French’s Yellow Mustard to be exact.

That beginning and end makes it a perfect pairing for cured meats. The worst part about the whole thing is the month long wait I’ll have to endure before I can savor these two together. I’ll let you know how it all goes down when the time comes.

charcutepalooza, food porn, messing up, tomato, tomato terrine, tomatoes

Charcutepalooza: Heirloom Tomato Terrine

I thought I would be able to reenter the realm of Charcuteapalooza: The Year of Meat by fulfilling their call for a Terrine or Mousseline. Time and, more so, money has been a factor in not participating in the past three rounds and I found myself, again, not being to justify plunking down the money on a piece of equipment that I may or may not use again. I thought I had found salvation from purchasing a $50+ terrine mold by using a recycled Trois Petit Cochon package. It would allow me to do an uncooked terrine which I thought would be kosher–I mean, even Ruhlman throws us a vegetable one at the end of the chapter of ‘Charcuterie.

As luck would have it, Bon Appetit even published a stunning Tomato Terrine in this month’s issue. Surely the God’s of ‘Poor Man’s Charcuterie’ were smiling down on me. But, they weren’t. Not really.

Yes, I had made a terrine. Yes, it worked because I didn’t have to cook it. Yes, it met Mrs. Wheelbarrows plea for ‘pre-sen-ta-tion.’ Yes, I had justified in my head that this fit into the “Year of Meat” because of the use of gelatin. But, I hadn’t read all of the rules–that it needed to be more about the binding, than the vessel. That Mrs. Wheelbarrow, herself, had published a terrine that was not cooked in the oven and, therefore, I could have too. I could have also made a cooked terrine using ramekins. I could have done just about everything else that I did and fell into the paramaters that were clearly set out before me.

Just as I was about to declare victory and felt great about what I created, I fell on my face.

At least a little.

I mean, what I made was probably one of the most visually stunning dishes I’ve made in my own kitchen. There were some errors, like losing too much juice to too much weight before it had time to set, making it a lot more delicate than needed.

But, the flavor equaled the visual and, for that, I do have to declare victory, even if it wasn’t in the name of ‘Charcutepalooza.’

From Bon Appetit:

2 carrots, chopped

leek, thinly sliced

celery stalk, chopped

shallot, halved

garlic clove

flat-leaf parsley sprigs

black peppercorns

fresh bay leaves (or 1 dried)

6 pounds large firm ripe tomatoes (a mix of colors but of similar size), peeled

teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning

1 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin

cup thinly sliced chives plus more

teaspoons red wine vinegar

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

Extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Special Equipment

You will need two 8×4 1/2″ loaf pans.


Bring first 8 ingredients and 3 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until stock yields 1 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large measuring cup. Strain stock, discarding solids. Cover; keep hot

Uncover terrine; invert onto a platter. Remove pan and plastic wrap. Slice terrine; transfer to plates. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with chives and sea salt.

Set a fine-mesh strainer over another measuring cup. Cut each peeled tomato into 4 wedges. Place wedges, cut side up, on a work surface. Cut away seeds and pulp from tomato and transfer to strainer. Place filleted tomatoes on a double layer of paper towels to drain; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Pat tomatoes with more paper towels. Let stand for 30 minutes.Press on seeds to yield 1/2 cup tomato juice. Sprinkle gelatin over juice; let stand for 10 minutes to soften. Add to hot stock; whisk vigorously to dissolve gelatin. Stir in 1/4 cup chives, vinegar, and kosher salt to taste.Spray 1 loaf pan with nonstick spray; line with plastic wrap, allowing for a 3″ overhang on each side. Smooth plastic to remove wrinkles. Pour 1/2 cup stock into pan. Chill until set, about 40 minutes. Arrange 1 layer of tomatoes in pan, pressing down gently, then drizzle 2 tablespoons stock mixture over. Repeat layering with remaining tomatoes and stock. Pour remaining stock over to fill pan. Cover terrine with plastic wrap. Place on a small rimmed baking sheet.

Place second loaf pan on top of terrine. Weigh down terrine by placing 2-3 small canned goods in top pan (some of liquid mixture in bottom pan may spill out). Chill terrine until set, about 6 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

I drizzled some basil oil over top of the terrine, as well as some sliced mozzarella from Vermont. A more visually stunning spin on the Caprese salad and perfect for an August get together with friends.

Charcutepalooza: Heirloom Tomato Terrine on Punk Domestics

charcutepalooza, charcuterie, mcguyver smoker, smoking at home, smoking meats, spicy smoked pork loin

Charcutepalooza: Smoke It.

I chose the wood first–a blend of local organic Maine fruit woods–before I had even figured out what I was going to use them in.

I don’t have a grill, a Green Egg, a tiny stove top smoker box or a gigantic Bradley smoker. Hell, I don’t even have a wok. I’ve never smoked a food product before now nor do I have a general fondness for smoked foods, even cheese(which all seem to remind me of bologna). So, when it was announced that the next round of Charcutepalooza would be: Hot Smoke, I was challenged on a few levels, most importantly not having a damn thing to smoke in.

I am a smoker of a different type, one that would choose the Grateful Dead from Lake Placid (10/17/83) as proper background music for these shenanigans. Catch my vibe? Now being from that school, where early on you learn to make a smoking device out of any and everything, the wok method was the most obvious choice(and the one that would cost me nothing to use).

The NYTimes guide had a set up like this:

And mine, opting for an on hand stock pot, looked like this when it was done:

Just imagine the above diagram wedged into this pot. It’s the exact same thing. The difference came in the wood chips, where Mrs. Wheelbarrow suggested using a saw dust powder for the smoke, I kind of missed that part and had a bag of wood shavings arrive at my door. Little details, right? This presented a challenge to me as the wood chips would not naturally smolder on their own so my only option was to check on the smoke every 10-15 minutes and relight the wood chips as needed.

My pork of choice for this month, because I had already brined and cooked some Canadian bacon, I opted for the spicy smoked pork loin and, toying around with the suggested recipe from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book and threw together a rub that consisted of the following:

  • Toasted and ground Coriander
  • Ghost Pepper Salt
  • Light Brown Sugar
  • Cayenne Chile Powder
  • Ceylon Cinnamon
  • Kosher Salt

That was rubbed onto every inch of the 2# pork loin, wrapped in plastic wrap and left to sit for about 36 hours in the refrigerator. Then it was left, uncovered, for another 12 to develop pellicle to further enhance my chances of a nice smokey loin. Granted, it’s more of something needed for smoking fish but because I was going with the ghetto smoker, I was up for trying any tricks to make this work.

So, when the time came, the flames were lit, the loin placed and the pot was sealed and I sat, like a guard dog, watching for any escaping wisps of smoke and was silently praying that my apartment not fill up with a tremendous amount of smoke. And somehow it didn’t, though the constant relighting of the chips did manage to nearly blind me a few times with the thick smoke. But, an hour later, without a single smoke detector in the building going off, it was done.

And the results were a smokey success. Not only had the spice rub penetrated the meat and left a subtle sweet and spicy flavor but the fruit smoke, particularly the apple and maple, was prominent without being dense.

The meal, made of this gorgeous meat, was to be a spicy play on eggs benedict using a mustard cream sauce in place of the hollandaise. Sadly, though, something went awry in the pan and I lost the sauce(I’m blaming not cooking down the wine enough). Luckily, I had some beautiful Quadrello di Bufala on hand to stir into the eggs for a creamy texture.

The high fat cheese imparted a button mushroom flavor to the eggs as it melted down.

Served on top of some homemade biscuits, using From Away’s Buttermilk Biscuit recipe, opting for a sharper flavor of cheddar instead of brie, to cut through the smoke and earth of the other pieces of the dish.

Every bite was worth the effort and embarrassment that I endured, finding myself having to answer my landlord’s question(as I happen to run into him in the building while he was fixing a plumbing issue and I was making the upper floors smell like a Down East campfire) if there had been a small fire in the back hallway.

“No, I’m just making a pork loin,” I said, half truthful, as I snuck back up stairs and opened just a few more windows.

Smoke It on Punk Domestics
brining, charcutepalooza, corned beef, pickling, the year of meat

Charcutepalooza pt. 3: Brine It.

This month’s Charcutepalooza assignment seemed like the easiest one we’d have overall. We were told, using Michael Ruhlman’s ‘Charcuterie‘ book as a guide, to simply brine something. Chicken, duck, beef or what have you–just throw it in your brine for the appropriate amount of time and cook it how you see fit. This was our next step in our lessons on salt and worked to show us how our chosen cut would react to a long bath in a salt water and seasoning medium.

Brining is an easy way to add flavor and moisture into your cut and I’ve done it numerous times with chicken, pork and beef–basically anything I could fit into my gallon sized Tuperware container without taking over my refrigerator.

For me, with this being right before St. Patrick’s Day, there was little doubt that I wanted to use a brisket to make a corned beef boiled dinner. But, I wanted it to be a bit more special and my goal was to have the meal completely composed of Maine grown/raised/procured ingredients. Luckily, even in the last gasps of a long, snowy winter, it wasn’t too hard to gather it all up.

The brisket came from Cold Springs Ranch, in North New Portland, ME, via Whole Foods; the pickling spice was purchased at Rosemont Market on Munjoy in Portland;the cabbage and Potatoes from Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, ME; the side of Jewish Rye Bread was baked in Litchfield, ME at Black Crow Bakery. The only ingredients, though purchased at Whole Foods in Portland, that aren’t Maine made were the butter(for the bread), salt, sugar and pink salt.

The centerpiece, of course, was the beautiful brisket with it’s deep red flesh from it’s grass feeding and lean with just the upper shell of fat across the top. It bathed in juniper berries, clove, cinnamon, chili peppers, mustard, oregano, dried citrus peel, coriander, salt, pink salt, water and sugar for exactly seven days. Half way through the week, though, panic set in as I checked on the progress of the whole experiment. The meat, so striking in the picture above, sat gray in it’s brine.

Gray meat, I don’t have to tell you, is not a pretty sight and I’ve had it before with previous corned beefs I’ve made and, most recently, the tongue(that apparently did traumatize me so much that I can’t stop bringing it up lately). But, this isn’t suppose to happen, right? I mean, isn’t that the whole point of using sodium nitrates to eliminate this meat unsightliness?

I became angry, frustrated and then disappointment. I looked at the recipe in the book 10 times in less than 20 minutes, rechecking the required amount of pink salt. I blamed a possible error on my part as the cause of the gray mass. But, I had it right. In fact, I followed it to the letter and was baffled at what was before me, still lingering in the brine.

I stomped out onto the deck and had a cigarette when, to calm me down and give me some clarity, the Missus reminded me that I had 300+ bloggers I could reach out to for advice and to see if this was happening to anyone else. So, after my ‘chill the f out’ cigarette, I went to bed and logged onto the groups Facebook page when I woke up the next morning and posted:

The following was a conversation I had in my head after reading the posts:
See, this is normal *exhale* *inhale* You’re not the only one. See, everyone using a brisket or tongue is having a bit of gray, too *exhale* With a string of recent cooking/baking fails, I couldn’t take one more long project failing because I had misread something or mishandled ingredients. The admin of the Facebook page was also nice enough to post a picture to prove that they’re all a little gray on the outside. I hadn’t failed, I had only overreacted.

And, thankfully, this one wasn’t a failure. While it was slightly gray on the outside, it was exactly what I had hoped for on the inside: pink and peel away tender. Towards the end of the cooking time I cut the cabbage into eighths and added it to the pot with the corned beef. The potatoes were done in a style that I knew growing up as “salt potatoes.” It’s a style, introduced to me by my mom when I was still living in Albany, where you essentially add several cups of salt to the water you’re adding the potatoes to for boiling. They turned out to be a well chosen side as the brisket, even thought it was more than half the weight recommended for the recipe, had very little saltiness to the meat.

Then, after several hours of a very low simmer, the meat was pulled and set aside for slicing as I plated up everything else.

This Irish girl’s early St. Patrick’s Day tribute to my adopted home was complete and worth every fret and flutter it caused my heart. Thanks to the Charcutepalooza crew that helped to ease my fears and reminded me that one of the huge points of doing this group project is to learn from, and lean on, each other when we need it.

canadian bacon, charcutepalooza, charcuterie, making bacon, ruhlman, salt curing

Charcutepalooza: 2 Beasts, 1 Week–Pt. 2 The Salt Cures

Go ahead and twist my arm. Tell me I have to make my own bacon(or other dry cured options) and I won’t fight you on it. It’s actually the natural progression of things as we first buried a duck breast in salt, before we hung them, to make our own prosciutto. So, we would continue our collective educations on salt and move up to larger cuts of meat. When this challenge first started, I still was without the RuhlmanCharcuterie” book and drew from his website for a general idea of what was needed. After that, there was only the choosing of what cut of pork(or other appropriate animal) I would use. There really wasn’t much of a choice as it was either belly–which I currently have 9lbs of locally obtained belly in my freezer at the moment–or loin, for something of the Canadian style. But, damned if I didn’t try to get some jowl for this challenge to forgo bacon altogether in favor of some guanciale. Maybe I’ll be able to wrangle some up in the coming weeks and give it a go.

While I could have played around with different meats, though the lamb belly fell into my possession after the curing had begun and goats belly was no where to be found , I opted for the Canadian variety. Finding a recipe on line was easy as was some naturally raised, though not local, loin. It didn’t hit me until after I finally received the book that Ruhlman doesn’t have Canadian bacon in the dry cure category, but puts it later in the book under the ‘smoked meats’ chapter. So, this whole task may be a bit of a cheat but I’ll claim ignorance and an inability to hook up with the UPS guy to obtain the book before I started on my way.
Ruhlman’s dry cure is simple:

Basic Dry Cure
1 pound/450 grams kosher salt (2 cups Morton’s coarse kosher salt)

8 ounces/225 grams sugar (about 1 cup)

2 ounces/50 grams pink salt (10 teaspoons)

Combine and mix till pink salt is uniformly distributed. Store indefinitely in air-tight container.

That, dredged over, around and in this:

It lived in a gallon sized Ziploc bag in our refrigerator for a week. I thought it was more interesting to don some gloves and start this challenge than it was to watch The Black Eyed Peas during the Superbowl Halftime. My Chicago Bears weren’t playing and I lost my cheese bet, so what did I have invested? This was more engaging to say the least.

I added only an eighth of a cup of dark brown sugar to the dry cure as an added seasoning. Good bacon should be relatively unchanged–ie, I don’t need it to be curry or candy cane flavored to be appealing–so that’s how I treated it. The first thing I did, every day when I came home from work and took off my coat, was to check the pork loin and redistribute the moisture that was collecting in the bag. This, I learned, would help the cure penetrate and preserve the meat. Makes sense.

So, for a week I watched this experiment in my kitchen grow slightly pinker and firmer with each passing day(I’m sorry, but I can’t find the words to not make that sound perverted in any way). While the duck breast relied on the environment to reach it’s perfect state, this would require a little more work and coaxing. It also, as I found out when it was finally time slow roast it, would take twice as much time as the recipe for using a belly. Something to consider as I spent four hours roasting this after returning home that evening from the Lion Dance parade in Chinatown.

But, though I was tired and near tears because I just wanted the damn thing to come to 140ish degrees, the final product was better than I could have hoped for.

It was, as the book promised, “beautifully roasted” and the salt was perfect in it. While I’m not a huge fan of nitrates in my bacon, I’m willing to acknowledge that a little dose of them for curing purposes are ok(and much more appealing than not using any or trying celery juice or beet juice for the coloring).

But, there is still a meal to be made with this and, for that, I turned to the obvious choice of Eggs Benedict. Hollandaise sauce and I have a history going back to culinary school where, out of all of the assignments, my attempt to make it failed horribly. First, I drizzled clarified butter on the burner and managed to start a small fire and then curdled my egg yolks and had to have the chef teach me a quick fix for the sauce breaking. Since then, I haven’t had the balls to pull myself away from the blender hollandaise. Until now,that was, as I opted to try a still gentler approach via Martha Stewart.

I placed my yolks and water in a double boiler

and whisked for four straight minutes until it was time to slowly add the melted butter and whisk some more until it was thickened

But, I had missed a few steps. I added the lemon juice AFTER it had been thickened when I was suppose to add it before. I was also suppose to remove the bowl from the heat and didn’t. So, just soon after admiring the velvety texture and feeling so proud of my victory… the sauce broke. My shoulders fell instantly and I took the bowl over to the sink, ready to toss the whole bit. But, I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I couldn’t fall victim to a hollandaise sauce again. So, I turned back to the stove, poured in a bit of water and started stirring again. Like magic, it came back together and all was not lost.
While all of this was going on I was browning some of my gorgeous bacon,

toasting an english muffin and scrambling an egg(no time to attempt my first poached egg today). And, while I felt like a circus clown juggling so much and crying a bit on the inside, I did end up with a beautiful weekday brunch

that lasted only moments on the plate.

Next month we brine!